Legendary photographer Art Brewer was on the set of “Big Wednesday” when the film was shot back in 1977. He supplied GrindTV with a few of his favorite behind-the-scenes images, and we spoke to Art to get his take on the classic that remains the best Hollywood surf movie of all time.
Jan-Michael Vincent, William Katt, and Gary Busey in front of the Malibu wall facade at Cojo Point, Bixby Ranch, 1977. Photo Art Brewer
Did you have an official role at on the movie set?
Not really. I just kept getting invited to hang out to see what going on, both over on the North Shore [of Oahu] and then at the Malibu reenactment they did up at Bixby Ranch in Northern California. They also filmed down in El Salvador, but I didn’t go down because it was too sketchy. So, I was just on the movie set shooting a lot of the behind the scenes stuff for Surfer, who I was working for at the time.
Was the Hollywood involvement a big deal back then for surfing?
Well, it had been done before. I mean, they had made “Ride the Wild Surf” with Miky Dora and Greg Noll, but that ended up pretty cheesy. This seemed closer to the surfing reality because of the people they had involved, and we thought for once they were going to do something that had some substance. Looking back now, I think they kinda achieved that, especially if you look at all the other Hollywood films since, which haven’t even come close. Californian surfer Kemp Alberg was one of the lucky ones to surf the empty Cojo lineup. Photo Art Brewer
What was the vibe like on set?
It was a full circus going on at all times. I mean, you had George Greenough in his black and white Highway Patrol car, burning down the dirt roads and then coming into the lot doing donuts. Out of the boot he would pull out his handmade camera equipment that he used to film all the water sequences. It was more like a party than a working situation, and for me it was just like another day at the beach. It was work that you got to have fun and got paid for, which was rare back then. For most surfers it was pretty tough to get by.
The waves looked pretty fun, too.
Well, they bought their way into the ranch, so what was amazing was to see how many waves went by without anyone surfing them. When they were shooting you weren’t allowed in the water. You had to have permission from the director, John Milius, to get out in the water. There was perfect longboard waves coming through, a little groomed south swell at Cojo Point, and while the surfers managed to get out and score a few waves, it was the extras who had to suffer. They were getting $20 a day plus a whole lot of sunburn to watch perfect waves go unridden.